In which camp were you a decade or so ago when Norma Kamali unleashed her football-player shoulder pads? Did you giggle? Or were you with the gaggle who raved, as Los Angeles retailer Shauna Stein recalls, " 'Oh, Norma has the best pads!' They were taking them out of her clothes and popping them into everything they owned."
Over the years, Kamali and even French designer Claude Montana, who once offered women the biggest and most aggressive set of shoulders around, have reduced the shape and scale of their padding.
According to Stein, today's fashions call for "medium-size, rounder, less severe pads. And they should be thoughtfully placed. It's not the sexiest thing in the world to see them coming out of a neckline," she cautions. "And it's not in the best taste to always be rearranging them."
But if they get much smaller, perhaps they will disappear. A number of pad pundits, including Herbert Fink, owner of Theodore in Beverly Hills, sincerely doubt that.
"Some people love them. They do the right thing for them," says Fink. "They make short women feel taller. And they give small frames more substance."'
However, at Madeleine Gallay's Sunset Plaza boutique, there isn't a false deltoid in the house.
"I don't love shoulder pads," Gallay confesses. "There are other parts of the body where padding looks better." She is referring to "a good old-fashioned decolletage." And next door, in Lisa Norman's lingerie store, she has found "special little pads that go underneath the breasts and give the most amazing cleavage."
Fortunately for David Mindel, president of Damin Industries in Los Angeles, makers of Stay-Put shoulder pads, plenty of women are still hooked on what some critics have snidely called "cheaters."
Business is up 50% this year, and "every woman I talk to says she'll never give up shoulder pads," says Mindel, noting "everyone is talking about them going smaller, but we haven't seen it."
In what sounds like a battle cry for the cheater contingent, Patricia Fox, director of fashion and marketing for Saks Fifth Avenue, says: "We'll never let them die. I don't know any woman who doesn't want her hips to look smaller. And shoulder pads will do that."
But fair is fair, and Fox points out next spring "other devices," such as the off-the-shoulder look, "will create the same illusion."